I reviewed Éric Rohmer’s A TALE OF WINTER for Cinefile Chicago. A restored version opens for a virtual run at the Music Box Theatre today.
Éric Rohmer’s A TALE OF WINTER (France)
Available to rent through the Music Box Theatre here
A TALE OF WINTER is the second film that Éric Rohmer made in his “Tales of the Four Seasons” series — the third and final of his major film cycles, after “Six Moral Tales” and “Comedies and Proverbs” — but, thematically and according to the narrative’s placement within the calendar year, it feels like the true end point to the series. (For the record, the films can be enjoyed when seen in any order.) It is also a special movie in the director’s canon, one that begins atypically with an extended wordless montage as two newly acquainted lovers, Félicie (Charlotte Véry) and Charles (Frédéric van den Driessche), cavort in a French seaside resort town while on vacation before they become separated by a simple twist of fate. Even more atypically, Rohmer then flashes forward five years into the future to focus on Félicie’s day-to-day life as an unwed single mother living in Paris. She’s now involved with two new men, the snooty academic Loic (Hervé Furic) and the more down-to-earth hairdresser Maxence (Michel Voletti), but she refuses to fully commit to either of them since she has never gotten over Charles, the man she considers to be her soulmate in spite of the fact that their time together was so brief. In many ways, A TALE OF WINTER feels like a more female-centric remix of Rohmer’s beloved 1969 film MY NIGHT AT MAUD’S. Both are set during Christmastime and feature “Pascal’s wager,” the philosophical argument that it is logical to “bet” in favor of the existence of God, as a prominent plot point. But WINTER is also arguably a more mature and profound reworking of the earlier film’s ideas: in contrast to Jean-Louis Trintignant’s mathematician-protagonist in MAUD, Félicie has never even heard of Pascal — whose name is only invoked by Loic, a character portrayed as an annoying mansplainer — so that she works through her dilemma regarding faith on the level of emotional intuition rather than intellectual calculation (and thus allowing Rohmer to keep his philosophical themes more on the level of subtext). It is not giving anything away to say that the lovably stubborn Félicie is ultimately rewarded for her faith and that the film climaxes with the depiction of a miracle that is as moving as any scene Rohmer ever directed. As in A MAN ESCAPED, an otherwise very different kind of movie by another great French Catholic director, Robert Bresson, the outcome here seems preordained from the beginning, with Rohmer generating suspense not by making viewers wonder what will happen but rather how it will happen. The result is Rohmer’s most purely romantic film, a balm for the heart as well as the mind. (1992, 114 min) [Michael Glover Smith]